One of the great things about college basketball is the pace at which the teams change. Regardless of recruiting strategy every four to five years your favorite team will be completely different.
As a fan of the game, watching young talent bloom into quality starters is like opening presents on Christmas Day when you were a kid. Sometimes you get socks, and that’s always disappointing. Then the next year you may get a new bike, the one with ten gears that will let you go so much faster than all of your friends.
This season in the Big Ten half of the conference will be opening a lot of presents early, and whether they’ve got socks or new bikes will have a dramatic impact on the landscape of conference play. Last season the top five teams in the Big Ten were Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, and Ohio State. Three of those teams will see a huge amount of roster turnover this season and be relying on young, unproven players to step up if they want to have another strong performance
Michigan, the regular season conference champs, lost a higher percentage of their season minutes than any other team in the conference.
Three of those players declared for the NBA draft, including Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas. The Wolverines also lost both of their Centers from last season, with Jordan Morgan graduating and Jon Horford surprisingly electing to transfer to Florida for his last year of eligibility. Out of the 7,450 minutes played by Michigan players last season those five players accounted for 53.1% of them.
They still have Caris LeVert, a junior and potentially one of the best shooting guards in the conference next season, and know what they’re getting from fellow junior and backup point guard Spike Albrecht. The rest of the roster is widely unproven, and Michigan will rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores for the third year in a row.
Sophomores Derrick Walton (guard) and Zak Irvin (wing) will be asked to step up as major contributors, something Michigan’s summer training program hopes to have prepared them for. The bench and front court will be entirely composed of either true or redshirt freshmen.
Redshirt freshman Mark Donnal, a 6-9 forward, will likely start in the center position. Four-star forward Kameron Chatman is expected to play a role similar to Glenn Robinson III and highlights a five player class of true freshmen, four of which will need to provide productive minutes.
If everything goes perfectly, Michigan still has the talent to be one of the best teams in the conference. There are a lot of question marks, and in an offense with as many moving parts as coach John Beilein’s it’s hard to imagine the Wolverines don’t take at least a little step back this season.
Michigan State, who won last season’s Big Ten Tournament, finds themselves in a similar situation. They lost 47.6% of their minutes last season, including forward Adreian Payne and guards Keith Appling and Gary Harris. If not for an injury to Payne which took him out of a handful of games and limited his minutes in others the Spartans would have likely found themselves also losing over half of their minutes from last season.
Seniors Travis Trice and Branden Dawson will still be available to pick up some of the slack. Trice had excellent shooting numbers last season connecting on 43% of his three-point attempts, and will be able to take some of the pressure off of incoming four star point guard Laurawls Nairn, the headline of the Spartan recruiting class.
Michigan State will also retain junior guard Denzel Valentine, who leads the returning players in minutes and averaged an excellent rebound rate for his 6-5 height. If Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes receives eligibility through a hardship waiver, the Spartans should still have a strong and deep back court presence.
The front court, like the Wolverines, is going to be left a bit on the thin side. With the dismissal of Kenny Kaminski, junior forward Matt Costello is the only returning player with meaningful minutes at the center position. Sophomore Gavin Schilling, who played just 6.4 minutes a game last season, will need provide as much depth in the front court as he can. While less reliant on their incoming freshman class the Spartans will still need freshmen Marvin Clark and Javon Bess, two three star recruits, to provide minutes off the bench as their former bench players fill the gaps in their starting lineup.
Ohio State struggled to find their offense at times last season, but still finished with a respectable 10-8 record in the Big Ten which was good for 5th in the conference. They’re also the third member of last year’s top five to lose the majority of their production from that season.
Aaron Craft, LaQuinton Ross, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. have all graduated or entered the NBA Draft. Amadeo Della Valle also left the Buckeyes, opting to play professionally in Italy. These players accounted for 51.3% of the team’s minutes last season, and includes their top three scorers. On a team that was already starved for offensive production this will put a lot of pressure on Ohio State’s freshman class to put the ball in the bucket.
The good news for Ohio State fans is that they do boast one of the strongest recruiting classes in the conference. Guard D’Angelo Russell and forwards Keita Bates-Diop and Jae’Sean Tate are all four to five-star recruits depending on which service you subscribe to. They also add three star, 6-9 forward Dave Bell to their front court, who should provide depth along with Temple transfer Anthony Lee behind senior center Amir Williams.
Like the Wolverines, the Buckeyes will be relying on their Freshman class along with Lee to provide valuable production particularly on offense. Unlike the Wolverines they still have some senior leadership on the team: Shannon Scott, Sam Thompson, Amir Williams, and Trey McDonald each played at least 10 minutes per game last season. None of these players are particularly attractive offensive options, but can certainly provide the defense Ohio State has become known for during coach Thad Matta’s tenure
For the Buckeyes it will all come down to whether or not their elite freshman class can score on the rest of the Big Ten.
This is relatively normal for college ball, the good teams always lose players one way or another. However, this year it seems to be more prevalent in the Big Ten than it has been in recent years.
It’s not just the good teams, either. Indiana and Purdue round out the list of Big Ten teams missing at least 50% of their minutes from the previous year losing 52.6% and 51.3% respectively. Big Ten newcomer Maryland seemed poised to inject themselves into the middle of the conference, with a strong stable of four star recruits and a sharp shooting transfer Richaud Pack from North Carolina A&T joining their 17-15 record team from last season, but saw 46.7% of their experienced minutes disappear in the stunning transfers of five rotation players.
Each of those players played at least 13 minutes per game, and now they find themselves as one of the least experienced teams in the conference. The other new addition to the conference, Rutgers, lost 47.1% of their minutes. That’s seven teams in the conference which will have to replace a minimum of 45% of their minutes from the previous season, providing exciting opportunities for new faces. From top to bottom, fans of the Big Ten will see a lot of young talent stepping into bigger shoes and it should be a blast to watch.
Large amounts of turnover are sure to impact the standings in unpredictable ways. With three of the top five teams from last season attempting to find answers among their young talent things could be wide open for a team like Minnesota, Iowa, or Illinois to acquire enough wins to make an NCAA Tournament appearance. Each of these teams retains the majority of their talent from last season, and adds to it with a modest freshman class.
While Iowa loses All-Big Ten first team guard Roy Devyn Marble, they have a strong and deep cast of juniors and seniors to look to. If they could avoid a collapse like the end of the 2013-14 season, they could find themselves pushing past one of the younger teams who were ahead of them last season. Illinois and Minnesota both had trouble finding the wins to finish above .500 in a stacked Big Ten conference last season, but should find more wiggle room given the stability of their rosters.
The one thing that can probably be said with some certainty is that Wisconsin and Nebraska will be very good teams next season. They were both top five teams in the conference last season, and had the lowest two turnover percentages in the league.
Wisconsin returns every contributor except for guard Ben Brust from their final four team, a conference low 17.6% of their minutes from the prior season that have to be found elsewhere. Brust is a meaningful loss, but the Badgers are still poised to be among the best in the country, and right now it’s hard not to predict them running away with the conference title.
Nebraska lost guard Ray Gallegos, and a handful of players who weren’t seeing significant minutes. That’s just 20.9% of minutes to replace, and they still retained All-Big Ten first team forward Terran Petteway. It seems strange to say this just two years after Nebraska finished 5-13 in conference play, but with all of the question marks on teams under Wisconsin the Huskers might be the second best team in the Big Ten. Outside of Wisconsin the conference is incredibly unpredictable this year and that’s incredibly exciting.